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Lenape experts offers insights on healing the region's relationships with indigenous peoples

Curtis Zunigha
Co-founder/co-director of the Lenape Center in New York City Curtis Zunigha spoke at the University of Scranton on Nov. 17.

The City of Scranton, Lackawanna County and Pennsylvania are just awakening to and learning actual truths from the Native American perspective about the history of the region, said Curtis Zunigha, an enrolled member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.

“And understanding, quite frankly, that this is stolen land," said Zunigha.

Zunigha is an expert on Delaware/Lenape culture, language and traditional practices. He recently presented the “Forced Removal of the Lenape People: History and Homecoming” as part of the University of Scranton's ongoing Scranton’s Story, Our Nation’s Story.

Native American Heritage Day is celebrated on Nov. 25 and November is Native American Heritage Month.

Pennsylvania and New York are the original homeland of the Lenape people. The indigenous people were driven out of their land first by the Dutch, then the British and finally the Americans, he said, adding they ended up in various and disparate communities in Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Southern Ontario, Canada, he said.

“I, as a descendant of those ancestors, am connecting with the spirit of the ancestors and the land and the waters," he said, standing in the ballroom of the Denaples Center on Nov. 17 before his presentation. "And it is providing healing and wellness for me from the historical and the generational trauma of that forced removal over a period of about 120 years.”

Zunigha is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, an Air Force veteran and co-founder/co-director of the Lenape Center in New York City.

“We have persevered and survived near genocide, and cultural appropriation and land theft … and now we are going through a spiritual and cultural renaissance," said Zunigha. "We are practicing now our language and our customs and traditions in a 21st century.”

Zunigha hoped that the community, through his presentation at the university and time spent in the region, heard his call to welcome the Lenape people back to their homeland and to have a voice locally.

"That's the best way that the Scranton community can honor the native people as we celebrate or recognize at least Native American Heritage Month.”

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.